Josiah Magama Tongogara (1938 - December 26, 1979) was a commander of the ZANLA guerrilla army in Rhodesia. He attended the Lancaster House conference that led to Zimbabwe's independence and the end of white minority rule. Many expected him to be the first president of Zimbabwe, with Robert Mugabe, head of Zanla's political wing, ZANU, as prime minister.
Six days after the Lancaster House Agreement was signed Robert Mugabe, on the Voice of Zimbabwe radio station, conveyed "an extremely sad message" to "all the fighting people of Zimbabwe": the forty one year old Tongogara was dead, killed in a car accident in Mozambique on December 26, 1979.
Josiah Tungamirai, the ZANLA High Command's political commissar relates that on the night of the fatality, he and Tongogara had been travelling with others in two vehicles from Maputo to Chimoio. Tungamirai said he was in the front vehicle. It was dark and the roads were bad. Tungamirai's car passed a military vehicle that had been carelessly abandoned, with no warning signs at the side of the road. After that, he could no longer see the headlights of the following car in his rear view mirror. Eventually he turned back, and, as he had feared, they found Tongogara's car had struck the abandoned vehicle. Tongogara was sitting in the front passenger seat. Tungamirai told me that he had struggled to lift Tongogara out of the wrecked car. He said that as he was doing so, Tongogara heaved a huge sigh and died in his arms. 
Margaret Dongo was one of the last people to see him alive. "We were eighteen girls who were having a function and he came to say a few words to bless the occasion."
ZANU released an undertaker's statement saying his injuries were consistent with a road accident, but no autopsy results or pictures have been released(the undertaker who gave the report was indeed Mr K.J Stokesand not Mr R Silke).
TEKERE BOOK: Last updated: Thu, 12 Nov 2009 14:59:45 GMT AS I have mentioned before, Chimoio was a complex of camps, rather than a single entity, scattered around Chimoio Town to a radius of 40 km. So the Chimoio attack was not one, but a series of simultaneous attacks on all our camps. On the day of the Chimoio massacre, I was in Maputo, to attend a meeting with most of the senior commanders, including Tongogara. The attack began at dawn at dawn, on 23 November 1977, and Samora Machel came to inform us, telling us not to go there yet, as people were still being killed. It was only three days later that we were allowed to return. Later, it became clear that someone had informed the Rhodesians that all the people meeting in Maputo would actually be at Chimoio, and I was also told that a helicopter was hovering over my hut, calling on me to come out.
During the attack, Frelimo moved in to support us, and gave us weapons from their armouries. This angered the Russians, who supported ZAPU/ZIPRA and did not want their weapons used by ZANLA. At one point, Frelimo even asked the Russians to collect their arms and leave Mozambique.
After three days, we returned and began the grim task of picking up the dead and injured. At least 1200 people had been killed. Our people flooded Chimoio Hospital. Since our headquarters had been destroyed, we established another which we called MuGomba (in the pit), because it was literally down in a pit. We would have been extremely vulnerable if the Rhodesians had attacked again.
Among those who died in the attack was Serbia, who had been my instructor, and my major source of inspiration. She had been a commander in Tete, where she headed and commando unit of some 99 men. She was the only woman there. The commandos did not fight regular battles, but were called upon to break through particularly difficult points. She was a priceless soldier.
She had come to Chimoio to get supplies for her unit, and was killed in the maize field. It was sad that such a great fighter did not go down in battle, but we had no option but to bury her where she lay.
Lazarus Mandeya was a transport operator and well known in business circles, but he had decided to join those who were leaving for Mozambique. When Mugabe and I arrived in Chimoio, he was already there with his wife and son, John. He was extremely valuable in our transport camp.
As the attack approached, he went away and watched it from afar. As it drew nearer, he tried to go to his hut to rescue his wife and son, and, resisting the others who tried to hold him back, rushed back into the thick of the attack. Meanwhile, his son and wife were safe, hiding behind a reed bed. He was killed, and buried where he fell.
Ruvimbo, my wife, survived by hiding in a pit latrine. The attack lasted for three days, and three nights, and afterwards it took some time before Tongogara’s team heard her cries and were able to pull her out.
In order to continue, while so many terrible deaths surrounded us, we had to develop a certain frame of mind. Experiences could not be personalised, which meant that even the death of your own child could not be placed above the welfare of the whole group. And nobody wept, not a tear was shed. Even now, people who went through the war do not cry when a relative dies.
After seeing the aftermath, I went to Maputo and commanded all our medical people to come to Chimoio. Didymus Mutasa at first refused to let his wife go, saying, “musukuru unoda kuti ndifire futi ndirimugota here? Handidi muzukuru” (My nephew, you want me to lose another wife? I’ve had enough! I don’t want!). Mutasa had been widowed once, and he was afraid to lose this, his second wife, but she eventually came. While in Maputo, I gave a report on the massacre to President Mugabe. Two thirds of our dead were women. He said to me, “You know what, I am beginning to wonder whether this is worthwhile, with all these people dying.” But I replied that we must go on to the end. His remark aroused in me a mixture of anger and disgust.
After reporting to Mugabe, I had the difficult task of informing Simon Muzenda about the death of one of his daughters, Teresa. He did not take it badly. The matter of how we were going to report to the parents of all those who died was a real problem. We eventually agreed that within the first three months of gaining our independence we must summon all the chiefs and give them the full report, which they would carry to their villages.
But when independence was finally won, we did not do as we had resolved. Instead of restoring the chiefs’ honour, lost during white rule, we began ill-treating them. This was wrong. As secretary general, it was my responsibility to organise this, and we decided to hold the gathering of chiefs at Chishawasha, at a ceremony that would take three days and three nights. I went and informed Mugabe when all preparations had been made, so that he could plan to be free at that time. He responded with, “I am the Minister of Defence, I am the commander of the armed forces, and I am busy with the integration of the army!”
I told him that I had consulted with all the ZANLA and ZIPRA commanders from the war days, to which he retorted, “There is no such thing as a ZANLA or ZIPRA Commander, it’s not your responsibility to deal with them!” This made me so angry that I was ready to spit in his face, and I called him ugly names, finishing with, “If that’s the way you are going to be, you will need lots of luck!” At which I stormed out of his office, banging the day.
Since independence, many people have asked why there was no cleansing ceremony after the war, and many of the ills which subsequently fell upon Zimbabwe have been attributed to this fact. Even the Mozambican people asked why we hadn’t held a ceremony at Chimoio. Well, this is how it happened. Mugabe decided that no cleansing was necessary in Zimbabwe.
Following the massacre, I was summoned from Chimoio to Maputo by President Machel, in true military style. I felt as thought I was being put under house arrest. A squad of soldiers marched into where I was working, and ordered me, “Para Maputo!” I arrived by plane from Beira at about 8.00 in the evening, and we spent the whole night in discussion, reviewing the situation. Eventually, we agreed we agreed that we would meet again the following night, each accompanied by a military delegation. And Machel said to me, “I respect Mugabe, but he does not measure up to this scale of military operation and planning. He does not belong as a soldier.” In fact, the military Machel did not much like Robert Mugabe.”
I immediately requested that Tongogara be brought form Tete. In fact I summoned him just as Machel had summoned me: “Para Maputo!” Having once been detained in Lusaka, he must have thought that it was all over again.
The second night’s discussion was more detailed. We were planning a counter-response to the Chimoio massacre. After the meeting, I said to Tongogara,
“Look here, you are going to see President Mugabe to make a courtesy call, but don’t give him a lot of details about this meeting.” Tongogara leaped to his feet.
“Now you have heard it yourself! You are the one who brought a sell-out here. Look how many of the people have been killed!” He continued, “I told you not to bring him here - but you only believe what I said now because Machel has told you!” I did not react, but was shocked at the extent of Tongogara’s anger against Mugabe.
Sometime later, I brought up the subject again with Tongogara. “Are you saying I brought a sell-out?” This time the two of us analysed the situation and realised that we were both equally apprehensive that Mugabe might let us down. After this, we began to isolate our dependable commanders, and tried to discover how many of us were still committed to the war. But this filled us with sadness.
Tongogara and I worked very well together, and through this we also became close friends. Both of us felt the need for someone who could be depended upon entirely, and so came about what I call “The Covenant”, which was our vow of rededication to the war, just between the two of us. One evening, we went upstairs to my bedroom, which had only one chair to sit on apart from the bed. We set out a bottle of whisky, and sat down facing each other. “Tongogara,” I asked, “Are you still committed, are you really?” Tongogara in turn asked me the same question, and we both affirmed that we were totally committed. Now we were to make our vows of total commitment. I called to the guards outside to bring us our AK47s, cocked and loaded. The young men must have been very worried as to what we were about to do. Were we going to shoot each other?
Guns in hand, we stood up, facing each other. “You swear, you are committed unto the end. If you show any hesitation, I’ll shoot you with my AK47. We each gave each other a military salute, gun at the ready, hand across the heart and took our oaths of total re-commitment. The young men were relieved when we called them to take away our guns.
Tongogara continued the process of isolating the dependable commanders. Some of those excluded would be detained for the duration of the offensive in case they caused trouble. Josiah Tungamirai was one who feared battle. But there were a number of good soldiers, including Mark Dube, Rex Nhongo, Tonderai Nyika, Morgan Mhaka, Sarudzai Chinamaropa and Justin Chauke. It was sad that Serbia had died during the attack.
We bided our time, waiting for the enemy to relax into thinking that they had destroyed us at Chimoio. When we eventually began the offensive it was very successful. While Tongogara was responsible for coordinating the attack, in the middle portion of my border, my responsibility was for the northern part, operating from Tete. Our forces pushed ahead fast, eventually reaching as far as Musana Communal Lands and Mazowe Valley, which was very close to Harare. This caused Ian Smith to say that his people could not win the war. When he was accused of weakness, he tried to retract the statement by saying he had not said they would lose - just would not win!
A Lifetime of Struggle by Edgar Tekere is published by Sapes Books in Harare. The book was edited by Ibbo Mandaza. Also in the series is The Story of My Life by Joshua Nkomo, also published by Sapes.
3. 1. Theories on death
A CIA intelligence briefing of 28 December 1979 said Tongogara was a potential political rival to Mugabe because of his .. ambition, popularity and decisive style. On the same day, the US embassy in Zambia reported: Almost no one in Lusaka accepts Mugabe's assurance that Tongogara died accidentally. When the ambassador told the Soviet ambassador the news, the surprised Soviet immediately charged 'inside job'. 
Ian Smith also insisted in his memoirs that Tongogara's "own people" killed him, and that he had disclosed at Lancaster House that Tongogara was under threat. "I made a point of discussing his death with our police commissioner and head of special branch, and both assured me that Tongogara had been assassinated," Smith wrote. 
A former Detective in the Law and Order Section of the now defunct BSA Police ( now Zimbabwe Republic Police ) saw photographs of Tongogara's body. There were three wounds, consistent with gun shot wounds, to his upper torso. The undertaker's statement (described above) was not a formal autopsy report and as such was dismissed by all but the senior politburo of ZANU.
In spite of all these rumours, Mr. R. Silke, the pathologist for Mashfords Funeral Home in Zimbabwe, confirmed, in a television documentary in 1982 called "Tongo", that this theory of gunshot wounds on Tongogara's body was false as he personally inspected the body. He confirmed that the injuries he found were consistent with road accident trauma.
Jungle Dweller who was also at Chimoio on the day of the attack said, he was shocked by the death of Josiah Tongogara. Most comrades were shocked and blamed Mugabe for the death of the great fighter. Most comrades thought Cde Tongo's death was a plot by Mugabe and his close allies. However, the fighters feared to say it out because he Mugabe was feared by most fighters even the leadership feared him too. Cde Tongo was loved by most fighters because of his style of leadership. " Tears flew down my cheeks when I heard of his death and I new the war was over because he used to address us informing us that many will be cheated to death few hours before our independence" said Comrade John mambewu (Jungle Dweller. Cde Jungle Dweller when asked to narrate his history could be seen sighing each time he mentioned names of deceased friends in arms. " Actually I was born in the district of Bikita from a poor family of eight boys and two girls. I attended my primary school at Chamburukira Lower Primary School up to grade 5. I worked as a cotton picker at farms 10, 8, and 9 in Chiredzi. I also worked for Peter WenningHam's Farm again as a cotton picker. This is where I experienced the worst cruelity I have ever seen in my life resulting in me joining the Chimurenga in 1976 Through Chikwekwete border post. I with Amos Mugwadi and Daniel Mukwena walked from our home area i.e. Musuzwa Kraal/Chamburukira Matuzu hill via Gudo,Mutsviri,Mabhiza School,Chibuwe,Maria/Cheche,Muumbe village, crossed Bhinya road into Mozambique Chikwete border post. We walked for two days before we crossed the border. I can't mentioned all the difficulties we faced on our way to Mozambique but really we had many problems. On our way we met Rhodesian soldiers several times and they questioned us and I remember we told them that we were looking for our lost cattle each time we met them. I also remember it started raining and lighting struck a tree in front of us while we were watching. My brother Daniel Mukwena started to have problems with his right eye. The eye swell, turned red and he started to cry but we said no going back lets move. I had never crossed a big river like Save(Sabi). When we arrived at the river, it was full and flowing hushly. We had no option but to swim across. we were helped by two men to cross over. I remember we lay down after we had seen a convoy of vehicles and horses patrolling along Bhinya road. I felt cold when two of the horses crossed two metres in front of me but I was never spotted. After the patrol convoy passed we crossed bhinya road and straight into Mozambique.We were spotted by camaradas who took us to chikwekwete. At Chikwekwete we stayed for about a week before being taken to Sipunga Beira Via Mude Camp up to chigayo i.e. Chimoio. While we were at Chikwekwete we received news that our fellow cdes at Nyadzonya have been attacked and massacred. I also witnessed a capricon being axed behind the neck by the camaradas while tied beneath a mango tree. At chimoio we stayed for 3 weeks waiting for dodges to come and collect us to an unknown destination. We had count masters who would take our strength thrice a day. In the morning, afternoon and evening we would gather taken strength and then sing and dismissed to different position. I remember the situation was quiet tense because of the Nyadzonya attack which was still very fresh to every cde. All guerrilas were very vigilant to the extend that every recruit was escorted where ever he/she was going even to the toilet. When having lunch or supper you were forced to sit or kneel down while surrounded by armed trained guerrilas.
Yes, you need a complete book to get into finer details. The dodges came we were loaded into them like sadines. Our strength had much increased. The vehicles were much full such that some were standing on top of others. The drivers drove through dust roads very speedy. I remember as we travelled to our destination one recruit had his eye blown off after it was hit by a tree branch. The recruit cried helplessily but the vehicle never stopped until we reached where we were introduced as Doroi Masengere/Caitono. Some called the area matanga enguruve. The trained personnel took the injured recruit to MOs of course I never saw him again. At doroi, this is where I experienced the worst in my life. I don't think I will ever experience such experiences. There was no food. We had no blankets, no warm clothes, no medication everything was just bad. The jiggerfleas,lice,hunger and diseases started to affect us. The clothes and shoes I had were taken away by other trainados and I was given tattered and torn clothes. I cried one night, I was already thinking home, thinking of my mother,father,brothers and sisters. The detantee had affected all the camps. No clothes were given to us. The area was a wet area. It could rain any time. We slept as the rain flows beneath us. Many cdes fell ill and died because of shortage of food,clothes etc. Daniel was also affected and died. I cried but there was no help. I thought Another theory is that he was killed by the Rhodesian SAS.